I wish I could take credit for that headline, but it belongs to Chuck Wendig. He makes a very good point in a recent, and controversial, blog post about the obsession self-published authors have with striking it rich, boosting their rankings, voting on tags, etc. and how little attention they pay to the really, really, REALLY important part…
In self-publishing, I see so much that focuses on sales numbers and money earned, but I see alarmingly little that devotes itself toward telling good stories. After all, that’s the point, right? Selling is, or should be, secondary. The quality of one’s writing and the power of one’s storytelling is key. It’s primary. It’s why we do this thing that we do. Any time you hear about the major self-publishers, it’s always about the sales, the percentage, the money earned. What’s rare is a comment about how good the books are. When the narrative was all about Amanda Hocking, everybody was buzzing about her numbers, but nobody I know was buzzing about how good those books were. Focus less on the delivery of the stories and more about the quality of what’s being delivered.
The problem is, if more self-published authors did that, they'd have to acknowledge how insanely awful most of the "indie" stuff really is. Josin L. McQuein, one of the commentors on Chuck's post, summed up the problem perfectly:
…self-e-publishing is a lot like the atmosphere on a fanfiction site. It’s mostly garbage, and everyone reading it knows that. Among that garbage, there are pockets of gold and diamonds that, if found, will draw readers. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the more popular fanfic authors make a serious go of self-e-publishing. They’ve got a built in audience that can be tens of thousands strong in the larger fandoms.) The trick is, someone has to find those pockets of precious material and pass the information along. It doesn’t always happen. If you’re going to self-e-publish, then TAKE YOUR TIME. If it takes you weeks, months, or even a year to write your book, then why would you undermine all of that time and effort by rushing through the final steps of the process? If you’re going self-publish, then don’t handicap your novel by not making it the best you possibly can.
In other words, don't put the publishing cart before the story-telling horse.
4 thoughts on “The Publishing Cart Before the Storytelling Horse”
Yes! I’m sorry to be a yes man on this, but quite recently I thought, “I really don’t want to read another blog post, Facebook post, Twitter post, etc., about e-self-publishing that’s all about marketing and sales.” What, I wondered, happened to blog posts about writing? About characterization? About pace? Etc.
And I still wonder.
When I first read Writer’s Digest in my high school library I was disgusted by its emphasis on marketing and making your writing fit into a niche. I saw precious little about literature or inspiration and a lot about the business side of writing. To my high school mind, just discovering Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, this all felt pretty calculating and uninspired.
No one talks about how well written the NYT bestseller list is either.
But then I’m not mad anymore. I want to know about new markets and new ways of selling my stuff. The writing craft finally comes down to me and eventually some editors (even an editor I hire before I decide to upload something).
I love to find out about a well-written, new book and there’s no lack of that on writer’s blogs too.
Before I finish I want to mention that I’ve never known the numbers of any ebook I’ve read. Once I’m actually reading the book that information becomes less important.
Most e-book publishing is mediocre. I am using the word in its original sense, middling. And readers don’t care. If a story has no great impact, or is not memorable, who cares? It’s a ninety-nine cent bore. Readers have a million or so choices now and can make all the mistakes they want with little consequence. Few bother to consult the traditional review services, such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, or Kirkus, perhaps because e-books are so cheap that no one bothers. But it still is the readers’ loss.
It’s been at least six years since I’ve read your blog, Lee, and yet this is a subject you wrote about back then. I remember you advised writers to forget self-pub and concentrate on the craft of writing. The blog POD-dy Mouth featured a few gems, but I imagine she pawed through stacks to find those.